Cycling’s Unique Language

Don’t know what bonk means? Here’s a cycling dictionary.

When a rider quits the race.

An aggressive, high-speed acceleration away from other riders.

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To exercise to the point of depletion of the body’s energy stores, leaving the rider extremely weak.

Break / Breakaway
An individual or group of riders suddenly riding away from a group of racers or the peloton, quickly enough that opponents cannot keep close enough to draft. When the breakaway consists of one rider, it is called a solo breakaway. 

Bridge / Bridge a Gap
To catch a rider or group that has opened a lead. 

Bunch Sprint
These can be very spectacular and sometimes frightening. Bunch sprints occur when a large group approaches the finish line as a group with the same desire to win.

The number of pedal strokes per minute. 

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A group of one or more riders that is ahead of the peloton but behind a breakaway. Very often it’s an attempt to bridge the gap and catch the lead group.

Criterium, Crit 
A bicycle race, generally around a short loop on city streets.

A racing technique of riding behind another rider or group of riders to take advantage of the aerodynamics. Although illegal in triathlons, drafting is key to cycling. Riding behind another can save as much as 30% under perfect conditions. And riding in the middle of a group can save a huge amount. Riders know it’s best to let others fight the wind. 

This is what happens to riders that have not been able to keep up with the peloton or riders with whom they are riding. This is usually a result of exhaustion or mechanical failure. They fall behind the pace and can no longer keep up.

Finish Line
This is the end of the race. However in cycling, while the finishing order is recorded and the top finisher wins the race, if a group of riders finishes together, they all get the same time. This rule is both for safety to prevent crazy 50-person sprints at the end of a race, not to mention the limitation of timing systems.

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Gap / Time Gap
The amount of time or distance that separates groups or individual riders. The Gap is usually expressed in time. The Gap is closely watched during the race as it grows and shrinks.

Lead Out
When a cyclist sacrifices himself/herself by riding fast in front of a teammate who positions him/herself in an aerodynamic sweet spot behind a rider to save energy. Just before the finish line, the front rider will pull off to the side allowing the rider behind to race to the finish. 

Term used to describe a mechanical problem such as a broken spoke or malfunctioning derailleur.

Off the Back
Term used to describe what happens to a rider who has failed to keep pace and loses contact with the main group.

Off the Front
Term used to describe the action of a rider or group of riders in a breakaway who ride well ahead of the main peloton.

Oxygen Debt 
To go anaerobic (the body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen available).

Pace Line
A group of cyclists riding close together in single file to reduce wind resistance. Also see Drafting.

Pacing, Pulling 
Leading a paceline or peloton.

The main group of riders in the race. 

Prime (pronounced “preem”) 
A special award given to the leader on selected laps during a criterium.

To take a turn at the front of a group of riders, yet maintaining the same speed as the rest of the group.

Road Rash
Large abrasions on a rider’s legs, arms or body caused by a crash, primarily on paved roads.

Sitting In
The strategy of a cyclist who doesn’t take their turn at the front of a pace line because of exhaustion, to conserve energy or to slow down the group.

Sitting up
When the rider is no longer tucked, or not riding in the most aerodynamic fashion.

The area of least wind resistance behind the rider in front.

Sprint (mass or field sprint)
Sprinting in a large group, often at the end of a race.

When a rider allows other riders to draft behind.

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